Traynor: Successful Tour

SAINTS Academy returned from their 2015 Tour unbeaten with four wins from four games.

The players are enjoying a well-earned break – until later week anyway! – whilst the staff are dissecting what happened in Australia and planning for the season ahead.

We caught up with head coach Derek Traynor to gain his thoughts from the successful trip.

You planned the tour in meticulous detail – could you have expected it to have gone as well as it did?
The big thing about the tour is we are trying to mould players. We are looking to produce well mannered, respectable and polite lads off the field – and competitive players on it. I felt we achieved that. Walking to the gate at the airport you could see passengers hoping they weren’t sat with us. At the end those same people were saying how well behaved the lads had been. That is great for the club and shows what we are doing is working.

We set the standards and the culture we want and the players follow. Obviously, when they go out on the field we want them to be competitive. In the end it was a well-disciplined tour.

Looking at the four games, each win was gained in a different way and it showed the character of the youngsters we have at the club…
In the touring party we had players who’d played Academy and those who hadn’t. The first game (against Wests Tigers) was a big shock for the latter part of this group and some didn’t last as many minutes as they would normally.

It was a tough match for us. Wests Tigers and Balmain brought their best players together to form their cubs and we had to dig in. We were losing by the end of the second 20 minute period but scored two tries in the last 20 to win the match.

Sadly, we lost Josh Eaves to a broken jaw early in the game. Thankfully, it didn’t need surgery and full credit to him, he just got on with the tour and supported the lads. In turn, they treated him as part of the squad. It was great the way everyone rallied around.

Against Central Coast we always knew what we would be facing. They are well organised and physical. Central Coast are trying to get an NRL team in the area and a lot of those lads will play for Newcastle and other clubs.

We took charge early, scored some good tries and improved from the experience of the first game. The younger players certainly stood up and were counted.

The third game against Parramatta Eels was the highlight of the tour for me. They are as big as Super League teams over here and we had to try and match that, dig in and hang on. We pinched a couple of tries and held them to a drop goal in the second half. Then in the last minute, with the last play of the game, we scored and won the match.

For the lads to perform that skill under pressure and not panic is just superb. As soon as the lad passed the ball to put us in we were jumping up and down.

The game with Penrith is historically the toughest and the one we want to win. We are based there over the course of the tour and have always faced them. To be honest we didn’t play well and didn’t control the ball as well as we would have liked and that put us under pressure. The Panthers were well organised and defended well – and we had to match that. We ended up grinding out a win to go four on four – a big achievement.

The last time we did that Andre Savelio, Greg Richards, Luke Thompson, Mark Percival and Adam Swift came through so we are obviously looking for more of the same.

You actually sound a little disappointed with the Penrith performance – does that show how much the side grew during the course of the three weeks?
Yes. You are always looking to kick on and improve and it was the flattest performance on the tour. It was nice to finish on a high but were a little disappointed. However, winning when you’re not playing well is the sign of a decent side.

Social media meant it was a lot easier for fans to keep in touch with the tour this time around. Did the players know the about the interest in them?
The interest was higher than before but we tend to ban Facebook and Twitter when they are over there. It can be a distraction for the players. They would spend three weeks on their phones otherwise! We want them to socialise with each other and the staff. They will have an idea about the interest but they probably didn’t realise how much coverage they were getting until they came back to the UK.

What happens now?
The lads who have signed for us will be back in on Tuesday and a couple who went on the tour who aren’t signed will go back to their amateur clubs to gain game time. Of course we will keep a close eye on them – it is an ongoing process.

I’d like to say a massive thank you to Dave Woods whose role is really important. Alongside Mike Rush and Neil Kilshaw he helps with the organisation of the tour and driving us around over there. Geoff Cropper’s fundraising is also invaluable.

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